Syria is again in the news, due mostly to the recent round of American and coalition (who exactly?) air strikes against 20 odd IS targets in North and East Syria. While this may be the more dramatic piece of news about the war-torn country, once daubed the ''heart of Arabism," a lot more is happening.
First, the fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan border with Israel is developing against the Assad regime, and with it the serious possibility that the rebels will be able to attack Damascus from the South if they secure the territory around Quneitra, which seems to be falling in their hands. This blog called attention in the past to the likelihood of the fighting becoming a regional issue, if spilling over to Israel, and hours ago something happened, which seems to fully substantiate this concern. A SU-24 Syrian aircraft crossed the border into Israel and was brought down by the Israeli air defense system. A serious incident, though not one which will immediately lead to any escalation, as the Syrian regime is simply unable to retaliate, nor do they have any real interest in turning Israel into an active participant in the fighting around Quneitra, surely not when they still have to fight hard in the Kalamoon-Arsal region. This is a region which the regime and their Lebanese allies, Hezbollah, declared months ago to be a ''liberated'' area, but declarations notwithstanding, it is still a zone of intense fighting and another indication that contrary to the premature predictions of some commentators -- Assad is not winning. In fact, he is on the losing side, as sizable chunks of Syrian territory are not under his control.
The American aerial attacks provided another indication to that state of affairs.
Ali Al Ahmad, the official commentator in Damascus, claims that the regime was notified in advance by the U.S. about the attacks, so they do not therefore constitute a breach of Syrian sovereignty. Interestingly enough, the Americans deny any prior notification to the Syrians. It is my understanding, that the Syrian claim is a clumsy attempt at face saving, a sign of the great weakness of the regime, and it shows that Bashar Assad still retains a measure of political sanity, as just few days ago, the Syrian Foreign Minister threatened that any breach of Syrian territory would be considered an act of aggression. But the overall impression is that the Syrians desperately need the American attacks, as they are in such dire situation. Henceforth, something to be exploited by the U.S.
Let us take the Syrians at their word, and assume, that they support American-led international effort to remove IS from the North and East of their country, provided it is coordinated with them. This may be an opening to a creative American policy, designed to lead from a defeat to IS to a settlement in Syria, which will put an end to the terrible bloodshed. The bottom line will not be to retain Assad as the ruler of an integral Syria, not to instill him in place of IS once the Islamists are removed from Syrian territory, if at all. Fighting in Syria against IS with Damascus blessing provides the Americans with a leverage upon Assad, at least they need to aspire to have the will to dictate political solution to the dictator in Damascus, as he should not expect the U.S. to do his dirty work for him, without reciprocating.
Here are some possible suggestions for a Syrian solution: The US and the international coalition will do the job of removing IS and other extreme militants from North and East Syria, will facilitate the take over of these lands by the ''moderate'' Free Syrian Army[FSA], which the allies are committed to help, and simultaneously broker an arrangement whereby the FSA and the regime will come to an agreement about joint control of Damascus , Homs, Hamah and Aleppo for a limited time period, after which the Alawites under Assad will be confined to the Alawite mountains with a port in Latakiyya, whereas the ''moderate'' Sunnis, supervised by the international coalition will take control of the Sunni hinterland. In the process, they will ensure the safety of the Christians in the big cities, and will, in cooperation with Turkey allow the establishment of a Kurdish autonomous region around Qamishli and Hasache in the North East. Turkey will have to participate in such an arrangement, due to its legitimate fear from Syrian Kurdish support for the P.K.K in Turkey (currently relatively peaceful, but tomorrow?), and the Americans will use their influence with the Barazani Kurdish administration in Northern Iraq to ensure their participation in any such arrangement.
South Syria, where there is fierce fighting now should be monitored by both Israel and Jordan, the two countries with a big stake in what is happening there, and with the local support of the Druze population, the dominant community in the region.
Intricate?, Complicated? Sure enough, but then welcome to Syria circa 2014 and onwards. What was prior to 2011 will not repeat itself. Old Syria is dead, new SYRIAS will have to emerge, reflecting the sectarian reality on the ground.
Still, it needs to be seen whether the American-led coalition has a political strategy
for the day after. Weeks ago, President Obama said there was not such strategy, but now there is a military intervention, and military intervention has to be accompanied by a political plan. Time to have one. It may be late, but hopefully not too late.